Clinch Mountain Echo

Ralph Stanley - Short Life Of Trouble

Songs Of Grayson And Whitter

(Rebel REB-CD-1735) 1996

Short Life Of Trouble
CD Tray Signed Copy

Average Album Rating: 3.67
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This album was recorded at Maggard Studio in Big Stone Gap, Va and released in 1996, although there is no specified recording date.

As the subtitle suggests, this is a collection of songs which had been recorded in the late 1920s by Grayson and Whitter, who were a big childhood influence on both Carter and Ralph Stanley. Ralph:- "I just run over an old record of theirs. It had 'Train 45' and 'Handsome Molly' on it. I thought the fiddling... was the prettiest fiddling I ever heard. That was when I was a little boy. We had one of those old crank type record players. A victrola. That's how I learned about them. Just happened to run up on the record."[1]

Carter too is known to have admired the duo, swapping notes on their recordings with a fan and mentioning them when introducing their songs on stage. Also, Clarence Ashley (aka Tom Ashley) who had played with G.B. Grayson, worked with The Stanley Brothers for while.[2]

The title track Short Life Of Trouble was also featured by The Stanley Brothers on WCYB 'Farm and Fun Time' radio show in the late 40s. A version from 1949, with vocals by Ralph, later cropped up on the various artists 'Live Again' 2xCD (Rebel REB-CD-2003) 1997.

It's interesting that Ralph handles most of the lead vocals on this album, with John Rigsby on tenor. Ralph II, who had just started singing lead is featured on only one track, A Dark Road Is A Hard Road To Travel.

Banjo duties are split with Steve Sparkman playing on half of the tracks, and Ralph on the remainder...

James Price's fiddle work is excellent too, being more in keeping with Curly Ray's legacy, than the dual-fiddle period with Art Stamper.

Although usually Ralph performed Shout Little Luly as an instrumental, the version here includes the lyrics from Grayson and Whitter's recording. Apparently Ralph got the words from a C90 cassette Gary B. Reid had made for him of old '78s.[3]

Presumably Rebel titled the album 'Short Life Of Trouble' as Ralph mentioned on stage that it should have been called 'Joking Henry'.[4]

Extract from the liner notes by Charles Wolfe: "Gilliam B. Grayson, the fiddler and singer of the duo, was born in Ashe County, North Carolina, on November 11, 1988. The family had come over from Scotland, and G.B.'s father had been a member of the 13th Tennessee Cavalry during the war between the States. When G.B. was six weeks old, his vision was seriously damaged in some way - the family story is that he did it by staring out the window at a new fall of snow, with sunlight glaring off it. In later years, Grayson was effectively blinded, though he could tell time when he held a watch up close to his eyes. To support himself, he did what many handicapped people did in the rural South: he turned to music. He learned to play guitar, harmonica, mandolin, organ, piano - and fiddle. He also learned to sing and play at the same time by holding the instrument down on his chest.
In the summer of 1927 he met Henry Whitter, a millhand from Fries, Virginia, who was an only average guitar player, but who had contacts and ambition to get on records. In fact, Whitter had been recording since 1923, and he set about getting recording dates for himself and Grayson. Soon they were producing a series of classic sides that still resonate today: 'Lee Highway Blues', 'Tom Dooley' (the first recording of this famed murder ballad), 'Handsome Molly', 'The Banks Of The Ohio' (which Grayson called 'I'll Never Be Yours'), 'Little Maggie', 'Rose Conley', 'Nobody's Darling', 'Nine Pound Hammer' and 'Cluck Old Hen'. An amazing number of old-time classics can be traced to the slender body of Grayson and Whitter recordings.
In 1930 the pair began travelling around to take advantage of their fame; and they even made a guest appearance on the Grand Ole Opry, and things were looking up. Then tragedy struck. On August 13, 1930, Grayson was back home and set out hitchhiking to his brother's home. He was hanging on to the running board of a car when it was hit by a log truck near Damascus, Va; he was thrown off and killed. Henry Whitter never really got over the shock of the death of his friend and partner, and he he eventually died of diabetes in 1942."

(*) Ralph II sings lead on one track, A Dark Road Is A Hard Road To Travel.

Train 45

G.B. Grayson
Rose Conley

Joking Henry

G.B. Grayson
Nobody's Darling

P.D. (?)
I've Always Been A Rambler

G.B. Grayson
Short Life Of Trouble

G.B. Grayson
Nine Pound Hammer

Handsome Molly

G.B. Grayson / Henry Whitter
Shout Lula

G.B. Grayson / Henry Whitter
He's Coming To Us Dead

Jimmie O'Neal / Dallas Turner
A Dark Road Is A Hard Road To Travel

G.B. Grayson
On The Banks Of The Old Tennessee

G.B. Grayson

Go To Top Of Page [1] Charles Wolfe's liner notes to the 'Short Life Of Trouble' CD.
[2] John Wright's "Traveling The High Way Home" book (p.81-83) and Train 45 introduction by Carter on The Legendary Stanley Brothers Recorded Live Vol. 2 (Rebel SLP 1495) 1970 and Don't Go Out Tonight, Little Darling on Live At Antioch 1960 (Vintage Collectors Club ZK-002). The Antioch LP is usually listed as issued in 1961, but the copy I've seen looks more likely to be from the '80s judging by the sleeve construction. A poor quality, but much longer tape of the show can be found at:-
[3] See George Conklin's email on this old 'Google Groups' thread:-!topic/
[4] Ralph's on-stage comment when introducing Shout Little Lulie, Gettysburg 3rd May 1997: "When I was about 11 years old my mother taught me to play the banjo without picks. I call it the clawhammer. And she taught me an old tune called 'Shout Little Lulie' and since that time I've recorded it & played it all over the world, and we recorded it again just a few months ago. And it's on our very latest release only I do some singing on it this time, I never did before. It's on that 'Joking Henry' tape. 'Short Life Of Trouble' is the name of the tape, but it should have been 'Joking Henry'."